So the Antwerp story begins. We leave about two months from today!
John and I both work at James Madison University. He's in the Department of History and I'm in the School of Theatre and Dance. John applied to be the FMIR (Faculty Member in Residence) at JMU's Semester in Antwerp program for spring 2007 and we were accepted. We leave sometime this January for our 750 square foot apartment near the University of Antwerp, where we will spend the next four months with 30 JMU students in our College of Business, there to study European Business. The semester will include side trips to France, England, Germany, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. After the program ends, we plan to go to the Costa del Sol or somewhere warm and Mediterranean. I'm sure the time will fly.
The girls will go to a preschool in Antwerp...wonder how quickly they'll be correcting our Flemish. JieJie will turn 5 while we're over there and we have already picked out the party location, a place called Pirateneiland (Pirate Island). Should be a blast. We have traveled a lot with them in anticipation of this semester, and of course the first thing we ever did with each of them was to travel all over China, so we're quite comfortable handling child care on the road. I still remember mixing formula, combining piping hot thermos water and cool bottled water, with the Avent bottle balanced between my knees as our coach bus rattled down the road, parents passing Cheerios and toys from seat to seat as needed.
We've had two meetings with the students so far and will have one more before we see them overseas. Hard to tell much from first impressions. Definitely no bad first impressions at all. As an avid people watcher I have hypotheses about one or two of them...I wonder if the young woman whose brow was furrowed through the entire second meeting is chronically anxious, or if her brow just likes to furrow. I wonder if the young man who asked a question that had just been answered a moment before will be high maintenance. Other than those two fleeting thoughts, I got nothin'. Based on how much I enjoyed the dozen students we spent the summer in Florence program with ten years ago, I anticipate a very pleasant experience with the obligatory Ugly American in the mix (like the guy in our Florence group who compared everything to "the way they do it in New York" to the point that several of us said not so quietly that perhaps he would like to take the next flight...). The students do have to compete to make it into the program. I like that.
Tonight we went to dinner with a couple who've been to Antwerp twice with this program, and they were very helpful about some of the questions we had. At this point I can't wait to get there, settle into our little apartment, get to know the neighborhood, get the girls settled into their school and just fall in love with a new city. We've been to Belgium before: Brussels and Brugge, though, not Antwerp. Antwerp is in the Flemish (as in Dutch) speaking part of the country, though I've been told we will have few opportunities to practice Flemish since so many people there are fluent in English and just switch to that if you seem to be having any difficulty.
Having the girls along may mean that whoever's not chaperoning the group of JMU students will be on a parallel excursion that is more kid-friendly. I plan to get a few guides to traveling in Europe with kids to get some ideas, since I've never been any of the places we're going on my own, much less with preschoolers in tow.
So I'm going to list my imaginings about Antwerp. When I think of it, I picture (in no particular order) cobblestones, chocolate, cheese, rain, stone buildings, small cars, reserved but helpful people, speculaas cookies (YUM), narrow streets, adorable kids' clothing, electric trams, traveling by train, trying new foods, a small refrigerator in our kitchen and daily trips to quaint markets, JieJie and MeiMei complaining about all the walking (which they do here too but they can still walk a fair piece considering their ages).
And I picture romantic mornings over coffee and pastries with my husband after we drop the girls off at preschool. We have been so caught up in the day-to-day at home, our work schedules, the girls' schedules...I picture this time as a time together set apart from the routine, a second honeymoon, a chance to reacquaint ourselves with one another's dreams and desires. I love being parents together, but I miss those quiet mornings with coffee and the newspaper and just being quiet together.
This is going to be a lovely trip.